Military Appeal Tribunals Part 2: ‘Are There Any Women Here Today?’


‘Australian Sketches Made on Tour, p.30. Harry Furniss. Public Domain’

Women were largely represented in the local appeal tribunals through the words of others.

Although women had been earning law degrees since 1888, at the time of the First World War they could not technically graduate or have their degrees awarded to them. This was compounded in 1913 when the Law Society refused to let four women sit the Law Society examinations. These women took their case to the court of appeal, but the court decided in the Society’s favour, Mr. Justice Joyce ruling that, ‘women were not ‘persons’ within the meaning of the 1843 Solicitors Act.’

It would remain this way until the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919. Therefore, they would not be representing the men appealing for exemption for military service as Harold Salt (a solicitor from Bournemouth) would do so often throughout 1916 to 1918.

However, there was at least one woman out of the thirteen people who made up the Poole Tribunal Board. Her name was Edith Cloutman. Born Edith Hicks, she was married to a builder’s clerk named Sidney Thomas Cloutman and they lived on Curtis Road in Upper Parkstone. When she was voted onto the local tribunal board in 1916 she was already a member of the Poole Board of Guardians, representing Parkstone East, and had been doing so for some time prior to 1914.

In 1921 she would be appointed as a magistrate, one of two women to do so that year – the other being Mrs. Reginald Fawkes. These two would be the first women appointed as magistrates in Poole.

The Bournemouth Guardian for 3rd December 1921 would describe Edith as:

‘[A] Labour Party nominee, she is a good worker upon the Board of Guardians, but has not yet obtained success in her attempts to capture a seat upon the Council. Her quiet, practical wisdom and sane judgement will be of value on the Bench, as will her sympathy with the unfortunate.’

In 1916, though, all that lay ahead.

Edith, although we have no record as of yet of anything she might have said in a tribunal sitting, is the woman of who we have the clearest picture. The majority of women in this setting, go mentioned but unnamed and fall into two broad categories: as a personal or business reason that a man cannot serve in the army, or on the behalf of an appellant himself – whether  as a relative or an employer.


A good example is that of John Barlett. Aged 35 and the driver of the bus ‘running between the station and Branksome Tower Hotel’, he appeared before the tribunal in June 1916. He stated that,

‘He was a married man with two children, and the work was too heavy for a woman. […] Bartlett also put in a personal claim, in which he claimed exemption on the ground that he had a wife two children and a bed-ridden mother whom he was the sole support, and had been for many years.’

We see this personal appeal echoed many times.

Arthur Willis, of Broadstone, made a personal appeal on the grounds that, ‘apart from his wife he had his wife’s mother living with him’

Henry Thomas Sharland of Broadstone Nurseries referred to women in his appeal on bother business and personal grounds: ‘His wife was very delicate and he had tried female labour [at the Nurseries] without success’

L. Chapman, a musician, asked for exemption on the grounds that, ‘his wife was ill and there were children to look after’

Frederick George Lockyer applied for exemption, ‘his wife being an invalid due to consumption and having two children and his wife’s mother to support’.

In this vein, Frank Morgan’s appeal in June 1916 is so far unique in the cases presented to the Poole Local Tribunal. He stated that, ‘one of his children by a former wife would not be properly looked after if he went away.’ Most of the personal claims cite a wife’s illness, or an elderly relative – they tend to emphasise the men’s economic responsibilities if they were called up to serve. Frank Morgan’s claim seemingly positions himself as a carer and would also seem to oppose the stereotype of this era believing that a woman was always the best, most empathetic carer for children or other dependants.

Sometimes the details in these appeals are incredibly sparse. For example, when

William Stanley (26) of Upper Parkstone appeared before the board, we are simply told that, ‘the mother appeared.’

Instances like this offer a brief glimpse of the women involved in this process and these mens’ lives, but only enough that we know that a woman was there. When they appear like this way, it is almost as though they are silhouettes: devoid of names, or any detail that would allow us to see them as an actual person.

Happily and occasionally, the opposite is true. For example, these appeals taken from the Bournemouth Guardian for 1st July 1916 gives us an opportunity to glimpse women as business owners:

‘Mrs. Eliza Corbin, haulage contractor, of Upper Parkstone, asked for the exemption of  her son, Fred Corbin (38) who had nine children. The case was adjourned for the man to undergo medical examination.’

Mrs. Emily Holloway, of Parkstone, asked for the exemption of Frank Bugler (37), the manager, salesman and buyer of a branch establishment. The solicitor in the case said that before the war there were three assistants, and if this man went the applicant would have to close up the business. Two months’ exemption was granted.

Sometimes, they also grant us a picture of the changing social world which these women occupied:

Mrs. E. Barry, of Upper Parkstone, asked for the exemption of William Howard Scott (38) of Branksome Park, her gardener. The solicitor appearing in support of the claim, stated the amount of land under cultivation, and said that Scott had been passed for the lowest service at home. Mrs Barry had all her sons serving. One month’s exemption was granted.

We may never know whether Mrs Barry asked for William’s exemption on the grounds of sentiment, simple practicality, or a mixture of the two. Did she, after having all her sons go off to war and confronted with her gardener leaving also simply decide that the army couldn’t take any more people away from her? Or was it that she just couldn’t look after all her land on her own?

That simple, small, sentence of ‘Mrs Barry had all her sons serving’ creates an imagined bubble of solitude around her. We might never know if the people missing from her day-to-day life since the outbreak of war outnumbered those still on the Home-front, but it is an emotive evocation of something that must have been happening throughout Poole. Maybe your husband, or fiancée, has signed up, maybe your father, maybe your brothers, uncles and nephews. Your family has essentially been cracked in half, and neither of you can be honest when you write to one another as you do not want your loved ones to worry. More than that, however: how did it feel to have acquaintances disappear from your everyday life? Men you saw in the street everyday, your bus-driver, postman, teacher, shop-clerks who never learnt the name of?

Around eight-thousand people from Poole joined the military during the First World War. That’s a lot of empty spaces; a lot of people who had their lives irrevocably altered. And of course, the effects wouldn’t have just touched the people who served: they would have rippled outward, through family and friends and employees and colleagues – a wave of change that must of, eventually, touched every person in Poole.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s